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VOL. 128 | NO. 79 | Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Suburban Mayors Preach Patience to Parents

By Bill Dries

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Suburban leaders are counseling patience among parents of children in their communities who will be part of the coming merger of the county’s two public school systems.

And they will start moving in May on the process of forming municipal school districts for the 2014-2015 school year.

“Every child every year changes teachers,” said Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

Goldsworthy was responding to a question about rumors and indications of changes on a school-by-school basis and even layoffs in some suburban schools in advance of the Aug. 5 start of the merger.

A group of 160 teachers have been “excessed,” which means their teaching assignments have been cut for several factors related to the changes in how teachers are judged and assigned. They could apply for jobs in other schools within the unified system.

Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson last week addressed the rumors, saying the changes are not layoffs as a result of the schools merger.

“If you have changes in faculty, sometimes that is not as drastic an impact on an individual family or child as we initially think,” Goldsworthy said. “We worry about there being kind of wholesale changes.”

“We hear those stories,” added Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner of the staffing and assignment changes as he talked of plans for the suburban school districts. “This is still a very aggressive schedule for us to be ready. … Some of the things that I’m telling the parents out there is hold on. The best-case scenario is August of 2014. But it may be longer than that.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen at Daily News Video, www.memphisdailynews.com.

The Tennessee General Assembly has approved the law that lifts the statewide ban on municipal school districts. With the anticipated approval of the bill by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Joyner said the second move in two years toward forming those school districts in the suburbs should begin next month with a referendum ordinance.

The ballot question would ask voters in a particular suburb if they want to form their own district.

“That requires three readings and it requires public notice and it requires public hearings. The month of May for us probably will be dedicated to passing that ordinance for the referendum,” Joyner said as he turned to when a special election might be held. “The dates that we’ve looked at right now are somewhere in the middle of July. Then after that is certified we would move into the ordinance for electing our school board.”

Voters in each of the six suburban towns and cities approved the same ballot question in 2012 as well as sales tax hikes to provide the state-required minimum funding for such a school system and each of the six had elected school boards.

A November ruling by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays voided the referendum result on the general question as well as the school board elections. But it left in place the sales tax hikes, which the suburban towns and cities have been collecting since October.

“In our particular case, we wish that our sales tax revenues were a little more vigorous,” Goldworthy said. “Nevertheless, what has occurred during this current year from last October … more than covers the litigation we’ve had to deal with and leaves us a little bit to carry forward.”

Like Germantown, Collierville is using some of its sales tax revenue from the hike to pay its legal fees in the federal court litigation over the schools reformation.

“Our sales tax is strong,” Joyner said expressing confidence in earlier projections that the revenue will be enough to run the school system combined with other public funding. “The money actually follows the child. So there would be the same state funds, the same county funds, the same federal funds that are currently going to those children.”

Both mayors also said their goal remains to educate children who now attend schools in their municipalities including those who don’t live within the boundaries of Germantown or Collierville.

“We are committed to educating all of the children who currently attend and for the foreseeable future so long as space provides. We don’t have a crystal ball,” Goldsworthy said. “At a future time there may be other circumstances, whether it’s annexation or a whole lot of factors. We anticipate that we are probably going to have people moving to Germantown to have access to Germantown schools.”

Joyner said once the ballot questions are scheduled for special elections, talks with the countywide school board about the transfer or use of school buildings should follow.

“That probably will be one of the next things that the mayors and the municipalities will be very concerned about is the status of those facilities,” he said. “We feel like historical rulings by courts are in our favor there.”

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